Axel Einar Hjorth

Axel Einar Hjorth was born march 7, 1888 in Krokek outside Norrköping, Sweden. After a difficult youth, he was placed as a foster child with a well off family. At the age of 20 he to moved to Stockholm to study architecture and design at the Högre Konstindustriella Skolan. When his stepfather died, Hjorth was forced to break off his studies.

Although Hjorth never graduated, he started working as a furniture designer around 1920s for different manufacturers such as H. Joop & Co, Myrestedt & Stern, Jonssons and for a short period for Nordiska Kompaniet. Around this time he also started working for Stads HantverksFörening for the city of Stockholm. Hjorths designs from this period had neoclassicism features combined with art-déco, often referred to as Swedish Grace. The romantic national style of Sweden of that time was elegant and refined, yet simple. This style period was relatively brief and soon after, the country was going to embrace the unstoppable progression of modernism and functionalism.

The anniversary exhibition of1923 in Gothenburg, which was characterised as the beginning of the breakthrough of Swedish decorative arts, as well as the exhibition of the Contemporary Swedish Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (together with Carl Malmsten and Carl Hörvik) in 1927 made him a well respected and, to a large extend, part of the international breakthrough of Swedish design. For more than 10 years, from October 1927, Hjorth acted as the chief designer/architect at Nordiska Kompaniet department store in Stockholm. Nordiska Kompaniet was at that time considered as one of the major manufacturers of modern furniture in Sweden. Hjorth left Nordiska Kompaniet in 1938 in order to start his own business.

Hjorths designs, from the luxuriousness of neo-classicism to the severity of functionalism, are sharply distinct in style, materials, and character. Unlike many of his contemporaries however, Hjorth did not conform to the socially-oriented ideas produced by Svensk Form (the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design). He often incorporated playful ornamentation from different historical periods from which he was inspired, such as French Art Deco, using mixed exotic woods, bright colors, and textiles. 

In the 1930s, Hjorth designed a furniture collection out of pine meant for serial production known as Sportstugemöbler ‘furniture for holiday houses’. The collection is based on Swedish rural traditions mixed with international modernism, and were named for Stockholm's archipelago islands including Blidö, Sandhamn, Toro and Lovö. The pieces are well renowned for being very modern, and displaying strong proportions, simplicity in construction, and a brilliant union between tradition and modernism. 

Hjorth played a significant role in the development of Swedish society as a whole and particularly in Swedish industrial art, even though he did not follow the design narrative of the era, his style was eventually absorbed into design characteristics of modernism in Sweden. Whilst several of Hjorths contemporary colleagues have received great attention in the history of Swedish architecture and design, he was often overlooked by the lack of published and archived works. He became a rather unknown entity in the design world and his achievements were under-appreciated. Today, Hjorth is often viewed as a precursor to the modern designs popularized by Charlotte Perriand, Jean Royére, Pierre Chapo or Josef Frank. Recently there has been a revival of appreciation of his work, as it is seen as completely contemporary and undated, simple and radical at the same time. ~H